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Monday, December 14, 2009

LAWMAKERS LOOK TO AVERT MEDICARE CUTS

As U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) searches for the magic 60 votes he needs to pass a health system reform bill, members of Congress and leaders of organized medicine are searching for a way to put off the 21.2-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare payments scheduled for Jan. 1. Senator Reid’s latest compromise does away with the controversial public option for health insurance. In its place is a plan that includes allowing individuals age 55-64 to buy in to Medicare. Given the many problems with the current Medicare program, the American Medical Association and others are encouraging physicians to tell their senators they oppose the Medicare buy-in. The latest move certainly makes it no easier for TMA to change our position: Without significant changes, we cannot support the Senate bill. We are examining details of a possible short-term patch of 30 to 60 days to freeze physicians’ Medicare payments at current rates. The measure likely would be tacked on to a budget bill that must pass by the end of the year, such as defense appropriations. The idea is to give lawmakers more time to pass a permanent replacement for Medicare’s Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula. Another one- or two-year patch that digs an even larger budget hole at the end is not acceptable. TMA’s consistent message to Congress is that we need a rational Medicare physician payment system that automatically keeps up with the cost of running a practice and is backed by a fair, stable funding formula.

CONFUSED ABOUT MEDICARE PARTICIPATION? TMA WEBINAR WILL ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS

Washington has extended physicians’ 2010 Medicare participation deadline to Jan. 31. In light of the controversy over long-term health system reform, the pending 21.2-percent payment cut, the elimination of consulting codes, and many other issues, we know that practices are thinking hard about this participation decision. While TMA can’t advise you which direction to take, we can give you detailed information about your participation options and the consequences of those choices. That’s why we’ve turned to our in-house Medicare experts to record a Webinar to help you make an informed decision. We’re moving quickly; our goal is to have this posted on the TMA Web site right after the first of the year. This will allow us to include the most current information while still giving you time to weight your options. Stay tuned for more details.

PAIR OF DOCS NOT A PARADOX FOR TEXPAC; BOTH BASALDUA AND CURLING WIN ENDORSEMENT

What do you do when two active TMA and TEXPAC members both decide to seek the same open Texas House of Representatives seat and both want your endorsement? With advice from local physician leaders, the TEXPAC Board of Directors took the Solomonic approach and came out behind both candidates. Two Kingwood physicians — anesthesiologist Susan Curling, MD, and family physician Martin Basaldua, MD — have filed to fill the North Houston seat of retiring State Rep. Joe Crabb (R-Atascocita). The TEXPAC decision came after Harris County members of the TEXPAC board recommended the dual endorsement in the race for House District 127. We urge physicians and alliance members to get behind both candidates and do what you can — financially or otherwise — to help them. With a crowded field in the March 2 Republican primary, there likely will be a runoff in April. TEXPAC is focused on electing physicians, and this race give us two great opportunities.

DR. FLEMING INSTALLS NEW LEADER IN CORPUS CHRISTI

Pediatrician Josefina Torres, MD, is the 84th president of the Nueces County Medical Society, taking over from John McKeever, MD, an orthopedic surgeon. TMA President Bill Fleming was on hand to administer the oath of office to Dr. Torres.

H1N1 FLU VACCINATIONS NOW OPEN TO ALL TEXANS

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has lifted its restrictions on who can receive the H1N1 flu shot and is now encouraging physicians to give the H1N1 vaccine to the general public. DSHS eased its previous guidelines on reserving vaccine for members of priority groups. The state is still encouraging physicians to serve the priority groups, but an increasing supply of vaccine will allow anyone who wants to be protected against H1N1 to get vaccinated.

EVPGRAM TO TAKE A HOLIDAY BREAK:

EVPGram takes its annual late-December hiatus starting next week. We’ll be back in your in-box in early January. Of course, EVPGram and other TMA communications will be standing by to keep you apprised of any important breakthroughs in Washington on health system reform or the Medicare payment formula.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

MEMBER SURVEY RESULTS SUPPORT TMA DECISION TO NOT BACK SENATE HEALTH REFORM BILL

Texas physicians and medical students say America’s health system is in need of reform, but they don’t prescribe radical change, and they believe the U.S. Congress’ current treatment plan will do more harm than good. Those are the primary findings of a recent TMA online poll of nearly 3,300 members. The results, along with extensive TMA policy, drove our decision to withhold support for the health system reform bill the U.S. Senate is now debating. The survey found that Texas physicians do not trust Congress and have no confidence that its deliberations are producing real solutions. Among the results:
  • Two-thirds said America's health care system has some problems and should be reformed, but only 20 percent called for a radical overhaul.
  • Nearly 70 percent said if a new health care bill becomes law, it will make the U.S. health care system worse than it is now in the long run.
  • Six out of 10 said quality of patient care will get worse, patients’ cost for care will go up, and patients’ health care coverage will go down if a new health care bill becomes law.
  • Respondents strongly oppose any outside interference in the patient-physician relationship. But by nearly a 2-1 margin, they say government interference is a bigger threat than insurance company interference.

PERRY, OTHER TOP SPEAKERS SLATED FOR TMA WINTER CONFERENCE

Gov. Rick Perry; U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD; American Medical Association President Jim Rohack, MD; National Medical Association President Willarda V. Edwards, MD, MBA; and a best-selling author are among the scheduled speakers for TMA 2010 Winter Conference. The event is Jan 29-30 at the new AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on The University of Texas campus and at the TMA Building. You can learn more details about our Leadership for Changing Times conference and register on the TMA Web site.

TMA PREPARES FOR HIT OUTREACH PROJECT

In anticipation of upcoming federal grants, TMA’s physician leader on health information technology (HIT) and staff met with leaders of four organizations planning HIT Regional Extension Centers (HITRECs) for Texas. If the grants are approved, TMA would provide outreach and physician education for the HITRECs. Funded through the economic stimulus bill that passed this spring, the HITRECs would help Texas physicians “select, successfully implement, and meaningfully use certified electronic health record (EHR) technology to improve the quality and value of health care.” The governing board of each extension center would include at least 50 percent physicians. Joseph Schneider, MD, chair of TMA’s Committee on HIT, shared the results of a new TMA survey:
  • Nearly 60 percent of physicians surveyed said they will attempt to qualify for federal incentive payments for meaningful use of EHRs.
  • Forty-two percent said they already have implemented an EHR and another 41 percent said they want or plan to do so.
  • Cost is the No. 1 barrier for those who do not plan to implement an EHR.

LUBBOCK-CROSBY-GARZA COUNTY SOCIETY INSTALLS NEW LEADER

Emergency medicine specialist Juan Fitz, MD, is the new president of Lubbock-Crosby-Garza County Medical Society, taking over from Jack DuBose, MD. The society honored 78-year-old Lubbock thoracic surgeon Malcolm Thomas Jr., MD, as the winner of its 2009 Hippocratic Award. TMA President Bill Fleming, MD, was on hand for the ceremony and to provide Lubbock physicians an update on the health system reform debate in Washington. Dr. Fleming also visited Dallas, where he welcomed the Southern Medical Association Scientific Assembly. “The science of our profession is changing so quickly today, the business of our profession is changing so quickly today, the politics of our profession is changing so quickly today … the family of organized medicine is more important than ever,” he said.